Putting a conference together

Putting a Conference Together

With our 2019 Leaders’ Conference now less than seven months away, Rachel Dalby asked FIEC Executive Director Phil Topham how the event plans were shaping-up.

This year’s conference, from 11-13 November, promises to help grow leaders at every level of church life. And with talks lined-up from internationally-renowned pastors Mark Dever and Colin Smith, tickets are selling fast.

Work by the event’s planning team has just moved up a gear, with several meetings being planned this month to work through the finer details.

This conference will be the third to be held in Torquay since the event relocated from Hemsby on the East Anglian coast. The move, the result of the need for a larger venue, coincided with the Hemsby site closing one of its largest meeting rooms.

Last year, almost 900 FIEC church leaders and staff members, Pastors’ Network members and invited guests flocked to the event at Torquay’s Riviera Centre. Attendance is set to grow further this year, with more than 350 tickets sold already.

FIEC Executive Director Phil Topham said he was excited by the way plans for November were shaping-up. He said: “We’ll soon be in a position to reveal more of our speakers, and the team is beginning to pull the timetable together.”

It seems testament to the conference’s high-quality programme and opportunities for delegates to connect with one another that the event continues to grow.

This year, the floor layout will be different to provide additional space. The bookstall will move downstairs to the Grace Murrell Suite, and four meeting rooms at the nearby TLH Toorak Hotel will be used for seminars.

This means that the entire Rosetor Room, where delegates arrive at the beginning to register, will be used as a social space.

Space & Price

Reflecting on the 2017 move to Torquay, Phil said FIEC’s directors were thrilled to have found such a good-quality venue. He said: “The Riviera Centre delivers on price and provides the space we need for up to 1,300 people to sit in our main gatherings.

“We have a fixed set of criteria that most venues can’t deliver on. We need significant spaces for coffee breaks and seminars and, on top of that, we want to seat everyone together for meals.

“Without changing the whole feel and style of the conference, there aren’t many other venues we could consider. Well, there are, but they are incredibly expensive!”

Phil explained that holding the conference in a seaside town off-season meant there was plenty of affordable accommodation available for delegates. “But, sadly, there aren’t many coastal resorts with bespoke conference facilities.”

While Phil and the team are always open to suggestions for future locations, the venues they have looked at so far would considerably increase delegates’ expense.

“I fear that a significant rise in costs would be prohibitive for a lot of our churches,” he said.

While Torquay is a long journey for many, Phil pointed out that the spread of FIEC’s 600-plus churches meant that nowhere would be ideal for everyone.

He said: “Lots of the feedback from our 2018 conference asked why we couldn’t consider a Midlands venue. Well, unfortunately, we’d be competing with the corporate conference market, so we’d have to charge hundreds of pounds per delegate.

“Any savings made on reduced travel would be eclipsed by the additional costs of accommodation and conference tickets.”

Travelling to Torquay

Among those who travelled farthest last year was Pastors’ Network member Huw Iley of Bethesda Evangelical Church, Cumbria. Huw said that his 373-mile drive from Cumbria had some benefits.

“Thanks to a VW van that seated nine pastors, the long drive meant that conversations could begin early, and there was time to reflect together during the journey home,” he said.

Adam Broughton, pastor at Newcraigs Evangelical Church, Kirkcaldy, on the east coast of Scotland, said: “In many respects, Torquay is an easier venue to get to than Hemsby because of reasonably cheap flights and M5 road link.”

Adam was among a group that flew from Edinburgh (a 25-minute drive from Kirkcaldy) to Bristol. They then hired a car from Bristol Airport for the drive to Torquay.

Phil commented: “As Huw and Adam’s stories show, the venue is well-connected by road, rail and air. As well as being within reach from Bristol Airport, Exeter Airport is a 40-minute taxi ride away.”

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